Thursday, November 1, 2012

\"Faizabad violence was well-planned and targets had been selected\"

FAIZABAD, November 1, 2012

Last week's violence in Faizabad district during the Durga Puja procession which left two persons dead, several injured and dozens of shops razed, was executed in a planned manner and the targets had been selected, according to a fact-finding team and accounts by victims and eyewitnesses.

The fact-finding team of human rights organisation Rihai Manch said the sequence of attacks on "well-known business units in Faizabad city" suggested that the violence was not a spontaneous reaction but a well-organised act. According to them, the mob was organised into smaller pockets with dedicated leaders. Seven such persons accused of leading the mob have been arrested so far, a police officer said.

Rajiv Yadav of Rihai Manch told this journalist, who accompanied the fact-finding team, that eyewitness accounts revealed trolleys were used to transport looted goods from the shops and had been placed strategically beforehand.

Ahmed Deen's footwear shop, which was full to the brim with supplies for the festive season, is now a pile of ash and dangling wood. "A gang of 40-50 persons broke into my shop and looted goods worth Rs.70 lakh. They put them into vans and trolleys. This went on for 20 minutes... After this, they brought canisters of petrol and set my shop on fire... We don't just want sympathy, we want fair compensation."

Another shopkeeper said: "I left my office and was walking toward my computer sales shop at 6.10 p.m. when I heard my shop was ablaze. I rushed towards it, but police did not allow me to enter the area. Instead, they asked me to leave and save myself."

According to accounts by eyewitnesses and victims, around 30-40 trolleys out of the 200 in the procession were used to carry out the arson and violence. Moreover, they said a separate convoy of vehicles that were part of the procession indulged in violence, in which at least 60 shops were set ablaze. Large quantities of petrol, kerosene, diesel and other equipment were ready in these vehicles, locals claimed.

The Nawab Khan mosque at Chowk, the epicentre of the violence in the city, was vandalised. Gatekeeper Mohammed Ismael alleged a convoy of vans was parked outside the mosque on October 24 during the procession, much before it turned violent. "When I asked them why the vans were parked there, they said the vehicles had stopped for some repair work. Then a member of the district administration [Vinod Pandey] asked me to leave the spot. I protested but was eventually forced to go by the others. Minutes after that, petrol and kerosene containers and other equipments were taken out from these parked vehicles. And the next thing I saw was brick throwing and shops being set on fire."

Ismael says the vehicles drove away immediately after the violence. "The police stood and watched. When we asked for help, they asked us to run."

Footage from CCTV cameras on the mosque's gate is being used to identify miscreants, said Senior Superintendent of Faizabad Police Ramit Sharma. The police had arrested 67 persons and identified another 70-80 others on the basis of the footage till Tuesday evening.

The first floor office of Urdu-Hindi newspaper Aap Ki Takat, located within the mosque, was strewn with broken glass, upturned chairs, dismantled shelves and scattered books and documents.

Editor Manzar Mehdi believes he was targeted because his paper is known for promoting communal harmony. "The motto of our paper is that Hindu-Muslim are brothers and Hindi-Urdu sisters...This was not a riot. It was a one-sided criminal attack," said the senior journalist. "The mosque was closed during Maghrib [evening prayers]. They broke the locks with spades and tried to put the facade of the mosque on fire. They ransacked our office. The laptop, computer, inverter, camera and other things were looted, and they tried to drag the table out too, but left it midway when they realised it was too big."

The victims say they had been anticipating such an attack as communal tensions had been growing in the area ever since a dispute arose in nearby Mirzapur over the construction of a wall in the compound of a mosque in July. These tensions flared, the locals say, when three idols were stolen from the Dev Kali temple here on the night of September 21-22.

"The local Bharatiya Janata Party and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh outfits called for a month-long agitation to protest against the loss of the idols saying Muslims had stolen the idols. They threatened to cancel the idol procession," said a social activist and writer.

He alleged that "inflammatory songs, taped threats and communally inciting recordings" were distributed by the local BJP units during the month-long protest. "If this was not organised, then how could an alleged eve-teasing incident at Medical Chourraha incite such violence 600 metres away within minutes?"

Meanwhile, the police say they have not received any complaint or a first information report request over an eve-teasing incident and are investigating the cause behind the incident.

According to local journalists, who spoke on condition of anonymity, some shops had refused to participate in the bandh to protest against the theft of the idols. This led to a small dispute but that was sorted out soon. "Is it only coincidence that shops that did not agree to close during the protests were the ones to be razed?"

A few hundred yards away from the centre of the Chowk is Saket Stationery, which has been completed razed too. However, its proprietor Mohammed Laiq Khan says the administration rubbished his claims for compensation saying the shop was razed due to an electric short circuit.

"How can it be a short circuit when you can clearly see that people have broken that window to throw petrol inside? Besides, we had no power since two days before the incident," says he.

In neighbouring town Rudauli, an incident of smearing colours on a religious site during the procession on October 24 reportedly caused the violence there, which quickly spread to other parts of the district. However, local welfare committees have questioned how a "minor incident" could cause such large-scale arson some 40 km away in Faizabad city.

They have also questioned the role of the central Durga Puja committee and local political leaders in "inciting and guiding" miscreants, saying such organised arson cannot take place without their support.

Rudauli Police on Tuesday said they had named BJP MLA Ram Chandra Yadav and 20 others in an FIR for their role in abetting violence, among other things. While the situation is crawling back to normalcy in Faizabad city, in Bhadarsa village, some 15 km away, police say strict measures are being followed to maintain the curfew.

A school teacher-cum-principal from the town said locals were scared to venture out to procure even essential commodities even during the curfew relaxation period. According to police sources, FIRs have been lodged there against 500 unidentified persons. Scared of getting arrested, the residents stay indoors. According to sources in Bhadarsa, around130 huts were razed on the night of October 26 in retaliation for the initial violence.

On Tuesday, Faizabad Congress MP Nirmal Khatri was prevented from entering Bhadarsa. Faizabad Helal Committee convenor Khaliq Ahmad said they had written to Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav submitting a list of "conspirators" based on eyewitness accounts. "We have asked him to act to dispel fear among residents and repair damaged places of worship at the earliest to maintain harmony."
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